Teri Learmont has been a police officer for the City of Saint Paul for almost 24 years. During her career, besides working as a patrol officer, she was assigned to the K9 unit for three years as well as the motorcycle unit. She currently works as a patrol officer on the midnight shift in the Western district. It was during her assignment to the motorcycle unit in 2002 that she suffered severe back trauma which, to this day, causes her to live with chronic pain. The injury occurred while participating in a motorcycle skills training exercise. She was riding through a grassy area and hit a big hole. She bounced off the seat about a foot and then slammed down hard on it. To her credit, she was able to maintain control of the bike and didn’t fall off. At the time, she thought she was okay – but later that day, her back became so painful that she ended up in Urgent Care. What followed was years of therapy in attempts to relieve the pain. She tried physical therapy, water therapy, steroid injections and a variety of rehabilitative programs. These modes provided only temporary relief at best. Her lifestyle changed. She stopped being as active as she had been, afraid of aggravating the pain in her back even more. She began to think she might have to give up the job she still really enjoyed doing along with so many other things she used to do that no longer seemed possible.
After six years of living with chronic pain, however, Teri decided she had had enough. She wanted to keep working. Her back hurt whether she was at work or at was at home. So, giving up her job to sit at home was not the answer. She was tired of sitting on the couch at home feeling sorry for herself. She was determined to have a more active lifestyle and not let the pain get the best of her. It was time to accept that the pain was never going to go away completely.
Teri decided to resume an exercise program. She began with walking. She added some walk/runs and found her back hurt if she ran or didn’t run. So, she continued to increase her running. She felt more like her old self, before the pain. She trained to run a half marathon and completed it. Despite the chronic pain, she now has run several marathons, and entered other competitions like the Tough Mudder, the Rugged Maniac and the Dirty Girl Mud Run. She feels the running has made her not only physically stronger but mentally stronger as well – and happy. Learning to live with chronic pain is a big challenge. The pain is always there but Teri’s determination to not let it get the best of her has given her life back to her. She is going to continue to run and be active for as long as she can.
Teri is not alone living with chronic pain. Chronic pain has emerged as a major health issue in this country, affecting 100 million Americans. While Teri was able to find a way on her own to manage living with it, there are programs that offer tools and skills to change the relationship with the pain and enable people to resume a happier life. Within the HealthPartners network, programs are offered at the Mayo Clinic and Courage Kenny Center.